Homebrewing: ‘Wort’ Your While


Photo courtesy: Austin Thomas

Austin Thomas and a friend make beer creations.

The number of breweries around the world has sextupled within the last eight years. People are bringing the previously failing craft brewing economy back to life as the expansion continues. There are now more than 10 microbreweries in Reno alone, and with that growth, interest in homebrewing is growing as well.

Sierra Nevada College student Austin Thomas says he has always been into “creating stuff.” He was interested in brewing beer but it was not until recently that he decided to “pull the trigger.”

Photo courtesy: Austin Thomas
Austin Thomas and a friend make beer creations.

After receiving his first recipe kit from an online source, he says he fell in love.

“After that, I hit the ground running,” he said. “I was doing batches every two weeks, which any homebrewer will tell you is a lot. I started off with a few recipe kits, and after maybe two months I was making my own recipes.”

According to Thomas, the process of homebrewing your own recipe goes as follows:

1. Quality ingredients. “I buy all the grains myself, mill them, and
extract their sugars through a process called ‘mashing.’”

2. Make the wort. “You bring a pot of water up to a boil while you steep some grains in a bag like tea, and pour the extracts in. This malty water is called ‘wort,’ which means young beer.

3. Add hops for bitterness. “Once the wort is boiling, you throw your hops in at certain times to add bitterness, and boil everything for about an hour.”

4. Sit and wait. “When that’s all done, you cool everything down, and pour it into your sanitized bucket with some yeast, let it sit and ferment for a few
weeks. “

Now that Thomas has begun buying his own grain his “brew days” tend to take him around 5-9 hours, “not including recipe design, set up or clean up,” he says.

The fermentation process tends to take around two weeks for most ales, but lagers can take up to five weeks to ferment. Once the beer has fermented it is not necessarily ready to be bottled.

“I boil some corn sugar in water, add this to the fermented beer, put it in my sanitized bottling bucket, and start filling them up and capping them,” Thomas said. “Once they’re all capped, I let all of the beer sit at room temperature in a dark space, where the residual yeast eats the corn sugar I added and releases CO2.”

Photo courtesy: Austin Thomas
Austin Thomas’ homebrewing equipment set-up.

Sanitation is one of the most important steps in the brewing process. Without sanitizing the beer, the “wild yeast” is left and can compromise the beer, giving it a “funky taste.”

Thomas usually brews five-gallon batches, producing approximately 50 12-ounce bottles, or 30 22-ounce bombers. After around two weeks, the bottled beer is conditioned and ready to drink, according to Thomas.

Although the process is time consuming, it can be done in a relatively small space. Thomas says that he keeps most of his brewing equipment in his closet.

A typical homebrew kit consists of a pot that holds approximately five gallons of water, a large spoon, a bucket with a lid for fermenting, and other small gadgets that can all be found at a hardware store.

For Thomas, the fun of homebrewing comes in the customization.

Thomas says that after about his sixth batch of his own beer he started entering his creations into competitions.

Thomas has brewed many different styles of beers but his favorite is pale ale.

“It’s a solid universal style that most beer drinkers enjoy, not too hoppy or strong, but more flavor and room for creativity than a light lager,” he said.

His most recent project is a double dry-hopped pale ale. He says he placed second in a competition with this recipe but is not giving up yet, “I’m hoping that with a few more tweaks it can land a gold medal.”